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Killer rabbit virus discovered in Southern Nevada amid multi-state outbreak

NSPCA animals
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Posted at 1:07 PM, May 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-14 20:41:10-04

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — There is an urgent warning for pet owners as animal authorities try to contain a virus that can kill in a matter of hours.

The disease known as Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus Serotype 2 or RHDV2 has made its way into the Las Vegas valley.

"She's 2 1/2, she's very, very kind and she loves to give people kisses," said Blake Heller, a rabbit owner.

Heller and his mom, Laura, have two rabbits, named Snowflake and Iris.

They are now paying attention to possible signs of the virus.

"I think I want to take them to get tested and checked out, this comes pretty quick, and it's kind of scary," said Laura Heller.

The virus is not fatal to human health; RHDV2 is highly contagious and affects both domestic and wild rabbits.

Signs of RHDV2 are almost nonexistent and result in sudden death by internal bleeding. Infected rabbits may also develop a fever, become reluctant to eat or show respiratory or nervous signs.

The virus is spread through direct contact or exposure to an infected rabbit's excretions or blood and can also survive and spread from carcasses, food, water, and contaminated materials.

"If they didn't feel well, stop eating, have a fever, pretty much anything at this point would make me suspicious and make me isolate that rabbit," said Dr. Sara Blakesley with Southern Hills Animal Hospital.

So far, Dr. Blakesley says there are three known cases in Southern Nevada.

"The [cases] that we have seen, from the time they started showing symptoms they were dead within hours," added Dr. Blakesley.

Humans can spread the virus indirectly by carrying it on clothing and shoes, as well as dogs and other pets tracking the virus indoors.

Additionally, the virus is very resistant to extreme temperatures and can live on surfaces for 200 days.

"You can track it on your shoes. So, if people are going out and trying to get some exercise, on a trail or something like that, and they don't take their shoes off and bring them in the house, it can get into a household," explained Dr. Blakesley.

A vaccine for RHDV2 is currently not available in the United States; however, the State Veterinary Board has deemed this an emergency situation and has placed an order for the vaccine.

Las Vegas has seen its first confirmed case of domestic rabbit fatality resulting from RHDV2. The virus has already spread rapidly in neighboring states as thousands of wild rabbit populations are being decimated in states like Texas.

Nevada SPCA is currently suspending all rabbit adoptions until further notice.

"They really do need to do their due diligence, and much like we've been doing during this pandemic, they need to disinfect their rabbit environment with bleach and water, wash the greens carefully," said Lori Heeren, executive director with the Nevada SPCA.

If you have any questions about the disease, please contact your veterinarian.

It is a reportable disease, and if detected, it should be immediately reported to the Nevada Department of Wildlife.

Dr. Nate LaHue, DVM, MPVM, should be contacted via email nate.lahue@ndow.org or by phone at (775) 688-1813.